Monday, November 28, 2016

Am I picking up a theme (or two) here?

Most of my work these days involves teaching and facilitating dialogue with adult learners, whether they are pastors, church leaders, or business men and women.  The stories I hear continue to both inspire and challenge me.  And after eleven years of listening to these stories, from people in more than ten different countries, there are definitely themes that emerge.

One theme is that business people around the world believe that they are viewed by the Church as an "ATM."  Of course, for most of us, an ATM refers to an "Automatic Teller Machine" and that is often how business people feel that the church sees them - only able to offer financial support for ministry.  But Rev. Dennis Tongoi of Kenya describes ATM as it relates to business people in the Church in a different way: "Appendix To Mission."  Where do you find an appendix to a book?  At the end.  It is supplemental, not integral to the story.  Most people don't read it, don't see it as necessary or pertinent.  And that is the sadder part of this theme:  that business people do not see that what they do IS part of the main story of God and of His people.  We are made to be fruitful and to multiply, and this creation calling was made prior to the calling of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  Business people are NOT an appendix to mission - they are the core mission.

A second theme is that business people are seen as a corrupt people group, especially if they are successful.  (That doesn't mean that the church won't accept their money though, even if they are seen as corrupt!)  Yet we know that Zephaniah 3:3-4 tells us that corruption is a HUMAN condition, not a business condition:  Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves; who leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people.  Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.  Corruption appears in the church and non-profits as well.  In fact, we are told that an estimated $16 billion was embezzled by the world's Christian churches in the year 2000 alone (David B. Barrett, Global Missions Researcher).

This intersection of corruption was told to me by a church leader in Tamale, Ghana, just last week.  He shared a story that just recently his church leaders were sent to purchase a new vehicle for the church.  They were able to find a negotiate for a vehicle from one of their church members, in the amount of 80,000 Ghana cedis (about $20,000 USD).  But the church leaders asked this member to write the receipt for 120,000 Ghana cedis ($30,000 USD) and they would pocket the additional $10,000.  The member knew that this was unethical, but didn't want to lose the sale.  So he gave them a blank receipt and left it up to the church leaders to fill in the amount.  Unfortunately, the church leaders filled in 120,000 Ghana cedis.  Here is a case where both parties (business and church) were complicit in corruption.  It is a sad story but unfortunately much more common than we care to know, and is throughout all countries (some countries are better at being more subtle than others).
A third theme is business people are seriously hard working people, who have a strong desire to have their calling and their work affirmed by God, by their church, and by their pastor.  People who have a passion for clothing, hair, cars, technology, sales, etc,  want and need to know that their work fits into who God made them to be.  I wish all of you could feel what changes in a room when we go through the following chart to see how different jobs and careers fit into God's work and God's plan (from Amy Sherman, Kingdom Callings):

Redemptive Work
God’s saving and reconciling actions
Pastor, counselors, peacemakers, writers, artists, poets, actors
Creative Work
God’s fashioning of the physical and human world
Interior designers, metalworkers, carpenters, builders, fashion designers, architect, novelists, urban planners
Providential Work
God’s provision for and sustaining humans and creation
Utility workers, shopkeepers, farmers, firemen, repairmen, printers, transport workers, IT workers, entrepreneurs, bankers, civil servants, mechanics, engineers, janitors, plumbers, and all who keep economic and political order working smoothly
Justice Work
God’s maintenance of justice
Judges, paralegals, lawyers, legal secretaries, government regulators, city managers, prison wardens and guards, police officers, administrators of law enforcement
Compassionate Work
God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding
Doctors, nurses, paramedics, therapists, social workers, pharmacists, community workers, nonprofit workers
Revelatory Work
God’s work to enlighten with truth
Teachers, preachers, scientists, journalists, writers.

These lists are not exhaustive but you get the idea.  It is amazing to see people identify their own work in this list and own that they are involved in God's providential work, or God's creative work, and so on.  People begin to sit up straighter in their chair, and the idea that they are ambassador's for Christ in their workplace begins to sink a bit deeper.

There are actually several more themes, but I'll stop with these three. We are part of an exciting work.  It is exciting to see people move from "going to church" to "being the church!"